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A bodybuilding champ weighs in on the new (shrunken) Conan

Mark Richman, a Canadian bodybuilder who is also a school teacher, works out at a gym in Whitby, Ont., on Aug. 22, 2011.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

This summer, The Globe and Mail's Dave McGinn takes the pros to the movies – people whose real lives, professions and passions are flickering up on the big screen – to see where seasonal silliness and reality intersect. This week: Conan the Barbarian

Everyone has their own definition of what is best in life. Here's Conan's: "To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you and to hear the lamentation of their women." Hey, he's a Barbarian, right? That was Arnold in the role, and now comes Hawaiian model-turned-actor Jason Momoa in the remake of the movie that bodybuilders still love. How will the new movie stack up among lifters? How will Momoa measure up to Schwarzenegger? What's the best diet to get Conan ripped? We asked Mark Richman, 33, a former Mr. Ontario and the Canadian Bodybuilding Federation national heavyweight champion in 2009.

Why is the original Conan so popular with bodybuilders. Why not Arnie's earlier movie, Hercules in New York?

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Because it put bodybuilding on the map. There were movies that were out there before that, but nothing as extravagant. Hercules in New York was kind of cheesy. It was a joke. It wasn't even his voice. But Conan was a movie that you could appreciate Arnold as a bodybuilder and it was still an exciting movie to watch. Even though it centred on a big guy, it had a plot, it had a great story. It actually gave bodybuilding a little bit of respect.

What did you think of the remake?

Compared to the original, I thought it had more of a realistic type of plot. There was kind of more of a story to this one. But in terms of bodybuilding? I would say, what happened to Conan? It looked like he shrunk. It would be hard for me to say this is the ultimate weapon.

Jason Momoa reportedly gained 20 pounds for the role in six weeks, going to 230 pounds from 210 pounds. How difficult would that be?

Wow. That's very hard. He would definitely have had to have been very strict with his diet. He would probably also have to spend a lot of time in the gym, although it depends. If somebody was sedentary for a little bit, like you took six months off and then decided that you were really going to give it a go in the gym? Your body would really respond quickly to that because it wasn't used to it. People who train all the time sometimes actually need to take a break because if you keep giving the same stimulus, your body just gets used to it.

Fredrik Malmberg, the producer of the Conan remake, has said Momoa's diet consisted of peanut butter and chicken breast. Is that a good diet if you want to get ripped?

It's a good diet to be in shape. And he was definitely in shape. Not to take anything away from the movie, but if you look at Arnold, it's night and day how much bigger he is. You would think the new Conan would be massive. There was actually one scene that showed a guy who was bigger than Conan. I thought that was odd that they had that. That type of diet helps you lose weight because it doesn't contain any carbs, but it's hard to hold on to your size or build muscle. He could have been bigger if he was on a different diet, but certainly it will get you in shape.

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Momoa has said that after the movie wrapped, he went to Italy to do nothing but eat pasta. Is that sort of desperate craving for carbs a common part of training?

That's totally normal. It's amazing what your body will do if you take away carbs. I will go in to the grocery store two weeks before a competition and it's just like a frenzy. You feel like you could eat everything in the store because you've been dieting so strictly. It messes with your head.

What's your go-to food of choice after a competition?

I would have to say pizza. It's a combination of the carbs that you're craving, it's greasy, it stays in your system a while, it tastes good – it just has everything. After a show, there's nothing better. And then I'll usually also need something sweet on the side, usually a piece of cake.

Momoa looks great as Conan, but it must have been difficult to get in to that kind of shape. What's the hardest part about getting ready for a competition?

Energy levels. Believe it or not, when you're on stage you look fantastic, but you feel like death. Your calories are so low leading up to a show because you're trying to get down to the lowest body fat possible.

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No one gets in to bodybuilding for the fame and fortune. Why do it?

You have to do it because you love it, because you can't live without it. You have to be obsessed too.

Do you think this movie will be for the world of bodybuilding what the original Conan has been?

No, certainly not. But in terms of the action, it was never really slow. I really liked it.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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About the Author

Dave McGinn writes about fitness trends for the Life section and also reports for Globe Arts. Prior to joining the Globe, he was a freelance journalist, covering topics from trying to eat Michael Phelps' diet to why the Joker is the best villain in comics history. He's working on improving his 10k time. More

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